About the Dead and the Living

by Floyd Brand. Printed by request.

John 11:28-42, especially verses 41-42

Jesus Weeps

28When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus

38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

 

After the events of the day, Mary and Martha and Lazarus and the whole village of Bethany might well have sung, “Though great distress my soul befell, the Lord my God did all things well.” (TLH 19:6) The Father in heaven had arranged the great distress that befell that family and that village, and the Son on earth was in perfect agreement. He had not hurried to get to Bethany in time to heal Lazarus before he died. He did not speak the word only and heal Lazarus from afar. He could have. The last two verses printed above unlock the mystery of what the Father in heaven and the Son on earth were about. To take up the thread of the narrative, Martha had told her sister Mary that the Master had come and was calling for her. Mary left in a hurry, and the Jews who were standing by her in her hour of sorrow went along, thinking she was going out to the grave to weep there. When she came to Jesus, she spoke to him the same words that her sister had spoken earlier, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Each sister had made the same point. Here the Latin proverb is fitting, “If two people do the same thing, it is not the same.” So it is here, the same words but different thoughts, different emotions, and a different spirit. This comes out in the narrative. Martha had expressed disappointment in Jesus. She was struggling, wondering what to think of him now. Mary fell down at Jesus’ feet. We will not speculate how well Mary understood, but at the least she was the one more ready to pray, “Thy will be done.”

For the reader’s edification it is essential that he know what was in the mind and heart of Jesus. He saw Mary weeping, silently, and the Jews weeping with her, crying aloud, weeping and wailing as we say. Jesus was shaken in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit took hold of him, shook him, and roused him to action. Jesus was troubled. He was upset. The verb expresses anger more than sadness. The basic meaning was to snort. Shortly after, Jesus himself was weeping. All this may not seem to fit together in souls otherwise, but the soul of Jesus was a greater soul, capable of vast emotions that otherwise seem irreconcilable. For instance, on Palm Sunday Jesus drew near to the city and wept over it. Next he went into the temple and drove out the racketeers, firing into their consciences the truth, “This house is for prayer, not for profit.” At Bethany Jesus was stirred up, and now he would fight back. He asked, “Where is he buried?” They answer, “This way, we’ll show you.” It is noteworthy that the All-knowing one asks directions.

Jesus wept. His weeping was different from that of the Jews. He teared up. Tears ran down his cheeks, but he was not wailing in helpless anguish. The Jews understood his weeping according to their lights, and their lights were not all that bright. This is key to the story. “Behold how he loved him!” they said. True, Jesus had lost a friend. When Christians assert their conviction that Jesus is the Son of God, they need to remember that he is the Son of Man, who “feeleth for our sadness.” It is to the point to see here the natural human relationship and the natural human sorrow. To see only this however is to miss the point.

The platitudes likewise miss the point. “He opened the eyes of the blind, couldn’t he have kept this man from dying as well?” It is easy to fall into the same trap, as the common platitudes of our time demonstrate. “It is a good thing God took this person when he did, and not let him suffer any longer.” “Just as well, at his age he wasn’t going to get better anyway.” Stop. God could let everyone die peacefully in his sleep if he wanted to. As relentless as the laws of nature  (creation) are, God is the one who set these laws into operation. He stands above these laws, and can suspend them at will, and even cancel them if he chooses. He is not bound by these laws or principles. The One by whom all things were made was about to make an exception to the usual course of events. “Take the stone away from the door.” Martha objected, “You really don’t want to do that!” Jesus answered, “Didn’t I tell you that if you would believe, you would see the glory of God? This brought Jesus to the point of the whole matter, that everyone there might see the glory of God; and that everyone everywhere might see the glory of God.

“Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.“ When Jesus was shaken in his soul by the Holy Spirit, when tears came to his eyes and ran down his cheeks, he was praying. No one else heard the words. His praying was groanings and sighings which cannot be uttered. Now he prayed aloud. He prayed aloud so that the people on earth as well as the Father in heaven would hear. Jesus had no doubt that the Father would answer his prayers. There was no doubt because the Father was well pleased with his Son. Jesus prayed aloud so that the people around might believe that the Father had sent him. This is the point of the whole business that day. The people did not see this; they did not believe it. “The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” The people did not know this, and that angered and grieved the soul of the Savior. With mighty signs and merciful wonders and at countless times Jesus had shown his people that the Father had sent him. But they could not see it. This stupidity was not the result of diminished mental ability. It was the wickedness of unbelief. For the almighty Son of God the dead body of Lazarus was an easy fix. The unbelief in the soul was the hard part. For it is not enough to hold Jesus in high regard. The people already did that. He is to be held in highest regard. It is not enough to know that the Father answered his prayers. It is in the name of his Son that he answers prayers. The exalted Son himself now answers prayer. It is not enough to know that Jesus is better than all the rest. He is the only one who is good. It is not enough to believe that there will be the resurrection on the Last Day. Resurrection and life do not just happen. It comes only through him. It is to be believed with unshakable conviction that he is the Resurrection and the Life.

If Jesus were present today when death strikes, if he were to walk with the grieving through the whole process, the business with the undertaker, the visitation, the service, the graveside, the lunch afterward, the conversations, would he be at peace or would he be shaken by the Spirit all over again? There is much ignorant chatter that cannot be justified with the commonplace that after all they mean well. In the face of the Gospel this becomes a question: do they? Do they mean well? Some wail helplessly over the death that just happened, because they have not come to terms with death coming to themselves some day. Some take death in stride, writing it off as a natural, normal part of the “cycle of life.” Many look back and say, “Quite a fellow he was,” “Quite a life she lived,” “They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” Some comfort themselves with the common sentiment that the dead person is still here even though he is gone, still hanging around in some vague way, still a part of their life, why they can just feel the presence of the one who no longer is present. Sometimes the most helpless in their grief, wailing uncontrollably and inconsolably, are those who have heard the Gospel and perhaps were brought up in the Word of God. But they have not yet taken firm hold of the Gospel, and the Gospel has not taken firm hold of them.

Some are deeply saddened, but they are at peace. They do not sorrow in the way of those who have no hope, for they hope in God. Theirs is the real hope in the real God. They have seen the glory of God, believing that the Father sent the Son. The raising of Lazarus for all its grandeur was but a glimmer of the glory of God. Jesus was aroused to smash the icy lock of death upon all men, and the dominion of the devil over the creatures of God. Now Jesus is more ready than ever to go to Jerusalem for the next Passover, the final Passover, the real Passover. He himself will be the Passover sacrificed for his people. The suffering to come upon him weighed on him always, at times all the more; this was one of those times. He saw ahead the bitter cup of Gethsemane, the abandonment on Golgotha. Already his soul was filled with dread and filled with zeal. Indeed, Behold how he loved him! Behold how he loved all the world! Let no one think that better things lie ahead because one could bear the thought of it being otherwise. God could bear the thought of it, and he did. The justly deserved punishment for our sins came down on his beloved Son. Yes. But then on the third day the voice cried out from heaven, “My Son, come forth!” Only no one had to loose him and let him go. He took the cloth from his own head, folded it neatly, and left it there where those who would see it would know what had happened. Better things do lie ahead for those who make the Son of God their hope, because “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

In the face of death then, one does well to pause. Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. Once one has seen then the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, then he may speak good words, truthful words, words of warning as needed, words of consolation as needed. He can speak words which hallow the name of God. He can speak the words by which the kingdom of God comes. Then his words will bring honor to the Redeemer and hope to the redeemed.

 

 

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